Sabonis off to blazing start as 31-year-old rookie


If the season ended today, nobody would be surprised if Toronto Raptors point guard Damon Stoudamire walked away with the league's Rookie of the Year trophy. The surprise would be who might finish second.

Quietly in Portland, 31-year-old Arvydas Sabonis is having a season that -- if he continues to play at his current level -- will land him on the all-rookie first team.

Name sound familiar? For years the 7-foot-3, 290-pound Sabonis was considered the best player in Europe. At his peak he was unstoppable in the low post, could shoot from the outside and was an excellent passer. He helped the Soviet Union upset the United States en route to the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, giving David Robinson fits along the way.

"The guy was so big, but he could do it all," said the Cleveland Cavaliers' Dan Majerle, a member of that United States bronze-medal team. "He's great in the post, a fantastic passer. He was a very big reason why we lost."

Sabonis was a fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks in 1985, but the league voided the pick because he had yet to turn 21. The Trail Blazers selected him in the first round the next season and retained his rights until this season. In the meantime, he spent six years in Spain, averaging 20.3 points and 12.2 rebounds.

Although he has an Achilles' tendon that has twice required surgery, Sabonis is averaging 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds and shooting 57.3 percent, including 44.2 percent from three-point range. He had a career-high 24 points against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. And he's only averaging 23.4 minutes.

"He was the premier big man in all of Europe," said Cavaliers coach Mike Fratello, who drafted him in Atlanta. "He certainly could play and be a factor in the NBA."

Pretty in pink?

The Chicago Bulls' Dennis Rodman is clearly the best rebounder in the league today, so it really makes no difference how strange he is -- just as long as he gets the job done.

Adam Kopulsky, a 15-year-old basketball player at Birmingham High School in Los Angeles, apparently doesn't have the same impact.

Kopulsky, a junior varsity reserve, recently was benched for two games after dying his hair pink in tribute to his favorite player.

"Dennis Rodman is a distraction to his teammates," Birmingham coach Al Bennett said. "[Rodman] is an anti-hero and to copy him is foolish."

Rodman labeled the benching "stupid."

"What's wrong with pink?" Rodman said. "Is it too much of a feminine thing?"

The art of sitting

Milwaukee Bucks center Kevin Duckworth gets paid to sit a lot -- he has not played in 15 straight games -- so he has had time to rate his bench-sitting positions. The best, he said, is the left elbow resting on the left thigh, with chin resting comfortably in his left hand.

"Very comfortable," he said.

BDoes he like the position because it allows his right hand to call on the courtside vendors? Duckworth appears to have beefed up since being traded from the Washington Bullets. The Bucks list his weight at 290 pounds.

"Don't ask me about how much I weigh," Duckworth said. "That's like asking a woman her age."

Around the league

When Boston lost to the Vancouver Grizzlies during their recent four-game road trip, it marked the first time since 1949 that the Celtics lost to a first-year club. . . . Cleveland guard Terrell Brandon and New York Knicks guard Derek Harper got into a jawing match last week, with Harper at one point apparently cocking his arm. "There was no way I was going to fight him," Brandon said. "Harper is my hero. I still have his poster up on my wall at my mother's house." . . . Point guard Kenny Anderson, who turned down a six-year, $40 million contract with the New Jersey Nets, signed with agent David Falk this week. Anderson, in search of more money, is shooting 37.7 percent. . . . Yinka Dare assist update: still at zero for his career. No truth to the rumor that when his first assist is recorded, the Nets will stop the game and award him the ball. . . . Stoudamire was a little upset at not winning the league's December Rookie of the Month award, which went to the Golden State Warriors' Joe Smith. "If you look at my numbers I had better numbers in December than in November. . . . Maybe they don't want to give

it to the same player every month."

Quote of the week

From Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley, who attended the Fiesta Bowl with longtime Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson and former teammate Danny Ainge:

"I'm sitting here with one guy who's a legend in his own time, and another one who's a legend in his own mind."

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